4 December ~ When Coventry City face Middlesbrough this afternoon they will do so with a feeling that, after almost a decade in the Championship, they might finally be finding their feet. The club currently occupies the division's last play-off place, and have barely dropped out of the top ten since August. And while previous predictions of Sky Blues revivals have proved premature, nearly halfway through the season, City still look like a decent bet for a top-six finish.
Much of the credit for this resurgence has to go to the new manager, Aidy Boothroyd. Since arriving in the summer, he has implemented a style of play which makes frequent use of what Sam Allardyce euphemistically calls the "long pass", and although this means that football aesthetes and those with restricted neck mobility are warned to steer clear of the Ricoh Arena, the approach is proving effective.
Boothroyd's philosophy of attack revolves around getting the ball in or near the opposition's box as often as possible, and the most efficient way of doing this is not with neat passing triangles, but by lumping it up there whenever the opportunity presents itself. In a post-tika-taka world it's not fashionable, but the resulting frenzy that ensues around the goalmouth is actually quite exciting to watch.
Of Boothroyd's signings, by far the most contentious was Marlon King, seeking a return to football following a prison sentence for sexual assault and actual bodily harm. An obvious lack of fitness, however, has denied King an extended run in the team, and while this fractured start to his Coventry career can't be what he hoped for, it does seem to have diluted the controversy associated with his arrival.
Although he cannot (and presumably wouldn't want to) compete with King's notoriety, most fans would probably agree that the man of the season so far is a player who has spent his career at the club: Ben Turner. A solid centre-back, Turner specialises in the kind of fist-pumping, chest-pounding, throwing-his-life-and-fertility-on-the-line defending that fans adore. He has also contributed four goals this season, putting himself third on the scorers' chart.
Off the pitch, attendances are still patchy and, with a capacity of nearly 33,000, the Ricoh is big enough to make a medium-sized Championship crowd feel like a depressingly small one (it is an excellent place to direct somebody who doubts that it is possible to feel lonely among 17,000 people). That said, 28,000 fans attended the recent game against Leeds, at least 20,000 of whom weren't from West Yorkshire, a reminder that there is a large support ready to turn out if they have a compelling reason to do so. And while that match ended in a 3–2 defeat, it was sufficiently exciting to give hope that plenty of those people would come again.
Perhaps the replacement of Chris Coleman, a manager associated with the top-flight pretensions, with Aidy Boothroyd, who made his name with success in the Championship, is responsible for the feeling that Coventry are finally shaking off their post-Premier League hangover. Whatever the reason, there is a buoyancy to the club at the moment that hasn't been undermined by a recent three-game losing streak; it is a feeling that Middlesbrough will need to rediscover if their tenure in the second tier is to be shorter than ours. Ed Wilson